Friday, 23 June 2017

Campbeltown Festival 2017

My second visit to Campbeltown for the excellent festival, which is 50% Springbank and 50% Cadenhead’s.  Last year I wrote up the whole thing over three days (day one, day two, day three) with a lot of dialog about the overall experience but I’ve chilled out a bit this year and my notes just focus on the whisky, really. Besides, Frank has already written way more about it than I was going to, I would advise you take a look at his write-up, which starts here.


Suffice to say the festival was excellent again this year, and unlike last year the weather was amazing too!  I packed everything from shorts to thinsulate gloves. Last year’s highlights were probably both warehouse tours, particularly the Cadenhead’s tour, and the Cadenhead’s pop-up bar, but this year the 175th anniversary tasting was the real highlight.

These were the events we went to:

Wednesday 24th May 2017:

11:30am: Springbank Society Tasting

7pm: The Springbank Distillery Dinner

Thursday 25th May 2017:

11:30am: The ‘uber-geek’ Tasting

1:30pm: Springbank Masterclass: New and forthcoming releases

3:30pm: Cadenhead Masterclass: Current bottlings and future releases

4:30pm: Springbank Warehouse Tasting

Friday 26th May 2017:

10:15am: Cadenhead Warehouse Tasting

1:45pm: Cadenhead 175th Anniversary Tasting

7pm: Cadenhead 175th Anniversary Dinner

My tasting notes are very short, and of course it’s hard to really make proper notes in a festival atmosphere where you have potentially been sipping whisky since 10:15am and lunch was a BBQed lamb burger.  As some of these bottles came home with me I have been able to make better, more complete notes for those whiskies (interesting to compare these with the quick notes I made at the time).  So I’ve added those notes first, then there are notes for each of the tastings we went to.  Enjoy!


Springbank 15 years old, Open day 2017, Rum cask, 50% A⊕

IMG_2309Nose - Sweet, dark, plastic chairs and a BBQ restaurant. The fruit is intense - blood oranges and ripe cut mango, but balanced with great body, dusty and slightly medicinal with Vaseline and a touch of cigarette smoke. Fruitier and more obviously Springbank with water.

Body - Quite brightly peated, with charred wood and fizzing fruits. Some of the complexity and gravitas of the 21 with water.

Finish - Long and fizzing, orange wax and vanilla pastry. Finally the rum is very obvious, dry and tannic, slightly funky.

This is a lot better rounded and delicious than I remember at the tasting. They should stick some of these in the OB 15, it's cracking stuff.

Kilkerran 11 years old, triple distilled, Open day 2017, 60.3% A+

I did try a triple distilled cask at the Springbank open day bar (which was excellent), but this is the first released triple distilled bottle I believe.

IMG_2307Nose - Waxy and restrained with hard green apple and a deep toffee underneath. New carpet underlay and lino, chipped marble and cold earth. This clearly needs water, which brings a great balance of fruit (riper green apple mainly), milk tart, vanilla sponge and almond paste. It's also significantly more floral.

Body - Sweet but rock hard, pastry and waxes underneath. Dustier and finally some peat and Campbeltown with water.

Finish - Long and fruity, pancakes and warmed honey. There is a very long tail on this, ironically soft and fruity. Chewed Sichuan peppercorns (not the really numbing ones) with water.

A much more restrained Kilkerran once the hard alcohol has had time and water. There is serious spirit underneath this though and at 15, 17, 20 these triples might be really significant.

Kilkerran Warehouse tour cask, 11 years old, full term in a rum barrel, 57.7% A+'

5/5/2006 – May 2017.  The first ever indie (Cadenheads) cask of Kilkerran, although there is a “cage bottle” of Kilkerran in the display cabinet at the Ardshiel hotel. 

IMG_2306Nose - That's much more like it, coastal and colossal, sharp, rich young Kilkerran and a good cask. Charred pineapple, strawberry laces and talcum powder, and the showers at a posh gym.

Body - Ripe and vanilla'd with French cooked pastry and big, drying tannins. Really rich, reminds me of a 10 year old peated Bunna with its intense sweetness. More cigarettes and bong water with water.

Finish - Medium to long with fisherman's friends and a slight funk.

Richer gear than the triple, but extremely accomplished and very drinkable. Kilkerran is whisky made for drinking (as it all is of course, but this really is). I've really enjoyed all these rum casks from the festival.

Springbank 21 years old, 2017 batch, 46% A⊕+'

This is, probably maybe, the batch we tasted in the Springbank warehouse tour last year!  Not a festival release, just the 2017 release but we did have it at this year’s (and last year’s!) festival, plus I love it, so…

IMG_2308Nose - The magical thing about old Springbank is the very thing that makes it impossible to really enjoy in a festival atmosphere, unless of course it's just been valinched out of a cask. There is great restraint, and a very gentle, professional air to this, but the excellence of the 15 year old is beautifully polished down here with fruit, oil, peat, wood and warehouse all in perfect, dampened harmony. It's a glazed, sweetshop fruit, blackcurrant and cherry, but fresh and oily like a ride on a cold day on an old motorbike. And red wine cask, blackcurrant jam on vanilla pancakes and ozone.

Body - Gentle again, slightly mineral, with Vimto and restrained Springbank tannins. A touch of pink peppercorns, burnt toast and Seville orange.

Finish - Very long indeed, fruit right to the finish. Coffee chocolates and drying wood at the end, this pulls you in for another sip.

Springbank peaking at 15 means the 21 is ethereal, like Bowmore is at 26. But this vatting is perfectly judged for drinking, I have burned through the 10cl share I have and a bottle wouldn't last long. A life affirming whisky.

Springbank 21 years old, Open day 2017, 46% A⊕

First fill port hogshead, 252 bottles, December 1995 to May 2017

IMG_2305Nose - Sweeter, much more forthright than the OB 21, blackcurrant jam again but bright, mineral and perfumed. Very floral and but also quite masculine - men's deodorant and talcum powder. With time that blackcurrant is more like travel sweets, and there's really old wood behind this. After sipping, there’s better balance and more intense fruit and wood.

Body - Younger at first, sharp and slightly hot with intense black fruit and sugar but it develops into a more dusty, older fruit (the dust on the travel sweets) and retronasal petrol.

Finish - Long and really softly vanilla'd, with ice lolly sticks and orange peel at the end.

This is a uncharacteristically fruited 21 year old Springbank, intense but complex and interesting. That sharpness and youth in the initial delivery takes it off A⊕+, plus I am less into these kinds of fireworks at the moment.

Springbank recharred sherry butt, 20 years old, bottling hall dinner 2017, 59.9% A+

IMG_2311Nose - Harsher, obviously new/recharred wood, with gloss paint and marker pens. Yet more black fruits here, plus twisted orange peel and in-flight orange juice. Takes a little while to acclimatise to this because the wood is so bright, but the Springbank oils are underneath with fresh, pungent honey musk and Ribena. Dustier, fruitier with water, more wood and more Springbank.

Body - Soft fruits but big hot spice behind it, charred red chilli and burnt toast. Significantly fruitier with water, much juicier and lots of cigarette tobacco.

Finish - Very long and quite hot, black pepper and charred red pepper skin. Numbing tannins.

The intensity on this one is quite challenging to be honest, we had a bottle of it on our table and we struggled to finish it whereas the port cask got hoovered up. However this has lots to give as a tasting whisky.


Society tasting, 24.05.2017 11:30

IMG_2002The annual Springbank Society tasting.  This is free to members of the society (if you can get a ticket!) and used to result in selection of the next society cask.  However the society is now, very sadly, too large (no thanks to bloggers) and members get angry when they can’t have their bottle because there’s not enough in a hogshead, so the society bottlings will from now on be vattings of many casks.  Therefore they decided instead to do a blind tasting of a few casks and ask us to guess the cask, brand and age.


I think it would have been better to do some trial vattings and let us taste samples of them and continue picking the next society bottle, that was pretty special last year. Not that we picked the one I wanted!

Dram 1 n- sweet, plasticky, floral with some putty. Young but confident. b- Hot, liquorice imps, acrylic paint, tobacco. Fruitier, and light peat with water. f- Long, with tobacco and slightly medicinal. A+

Guessed Springbank, 10 year old, bourbon. Was Springbank, 9, rum cask, local barley.

Dram 2 n- burnt wood, menthol, bandages. b- Oily and dry, peppery. f- Long with black pepper A+

Guessed Kilkerran (I was 100% sure of this), 9 years old, rum cask. Was Hazelburn (!), 16 years old, refill bourbon.  I haven’t been finding Hazelburn very gentle or unpeated recently!


Dram 3 n- Dusty, wet wood, fizzers. b- Medicinal, peach and orange. f- Dirty peat, really special.

Guessed Longrow (100% sure), 2nd fill sherry, 16 years old. Was Longrow, first fill sherry, 14 years old.

Dram 4 n- light, fresh paint, cooking apples. b- Strawberry and Asian fruit, a little filth. f- Very long and sweet.

Guessed Hazelburn, Calvados, 14 years old. Was Kilkerran, 10 years old, Marsala.


Springbank Dinner, Springbank Bottling Hall, 24.05.2017 19:00

IMG_2008As with last year, the dinner on the first night was excellent fun.  It starts with a tasting of three casks, we vote on the winner and it’s bottled and handed to you on the way out.  We had bottles of the winner on the table over dinner, and in the end they brought us a bottle of second place and came round with a valinch of third place!

I voted for the 2nd (port cask) but once people knew the age and saw the colour of the 3rd, the writing was on the wall.

Dram 1 - Springbank 17 years old, refill sherry, 51.2% A+

n- Mineral, lip salve, dark fruit. b- Very sweet, beautiful tobacco, floral. f- Medium to long, tarmac, bitter lemon. Sweet but classic, core Springbank.

IMG_2014Dram 2 - Springbank fresh port cask, 15 years old, 49.7% A⊕

N - sweet, more 1 dimensional fruit and icing sugar. B - intense gummy sweets, real icing sugar with the fruits. F - Long and fizzing, zesty and delicious, blackcurrant lozenges.

Dram 3 - Springbank recharred butt, 20 years old, 59.9% A+

This is the sister cask to last years' 19yo recharred sherry cask that we had in the warehouse tour (full notes at the top of this post).

n- Bramble and blackcurrant perfume. Chocolate orange. b- Spicy, pepper, fruit underneath. Loads of cigarette tar. F - Tar, cigars, very long and drying.



Springbank Uber Geek tasting, warehouse 10, 25.05.2017 11:30

We’ll see about uber geek, Frank and I were both, independently thinking on the way into this.  I am already familiar with α-amylase and β-amylase from my adventures in homebrewing but we were both impressed with the kilning profiles, particularly for Longrow which reminded me very much of low and slow BBQ.


Dram 1 - Hazelburn 16 years old, concerto barley, 4/5/01, first fill port, 42.4% A+

Apparently port and rum barrels seem to lose ABV faster than others

N - Sweet, mineral and slightly minty, liquorice torpedoes, roast plums. Cakier with water, orange drizzle cake. B - Wine cask, cigar tobacco, beautifully fruity. F - Long with a touch of blood.

Dram 2 - Springbank 14 years old, 2/5/03, first fill Guyana demerara rum barrel, 59.5% A

N - Very yellow, varnish and a little funk and cough candy. More wine-like with water, men's perfume. B - Intense, pepper and plastic. Very spicy with lots of rum funk. Sweeter, gentler, although still intense with water. F - Very long and loads of black pepper. Hot at the end. An interesting and funky whisky but way too bitter and hot at the end.

Dram 3 - Kilkerran 10 years old, 19/9/2006, first fill Calvados cask, 58.1% A+

IMG_2025N - Young with stewed tea, rich wood, vanilla sponge and hard green apple. B - Sweet cereal, young malt, candy cigarettes, apple chews. F - Cigarette tobacco and toast. A classy KK - confident and bright in its youth.

Dram 4 - Longrow 9 years old, 13/11/2007, first fill Sauternes, 58.3% A⊕

N - Really beautifully mature, fruity and dusty. B - Pure vanilla cream, mango, caraway, grapefruit peel and flesh. F - Medium with charcoal.

And finally a random extra. Is this the same cask as the one in the warehouse tasting last year? Seems to add up.

Dram 5 - Auchentoshan 18 years old, 1999 Lafite cask since 2009, 52.5% A⊕

IMG_2027N - Funk, peaches, ice lollies, haribo. Pure summer holidays. Dirtier with water. B - Pure red wine cask; hazelnuts, peach jelly sweets, strawberry laces. F - The fruit is short, but the rest is long with stewed tea, splints and bubblegum.

As tasty as it was last year! 

Springbank masterclass, 25.05.2017 13:30


Hazelburn 2004, 13 years old, Oloroso cask A⊕

This was the official release from a couple of months ago, I have an open bottle of this I need to publish notes from – soon!  If I can catch up on the monthlies…

N - Dusty, floral with retronasal vinegar, great waxes. B - Chalky, perfumed, earth and peppery peat. F - Medium, with strawberries and balanced vanilla sponge.

Springbank openday 2017 bottling, 2001 rum cask A+

Properly reviewed at the top of the post.

N - Sweet, plastic, green apple and bandages - obviously a rum cask. Lovely charred wood, and more waxy with water. A beautiful nose. B- Light with limoncello, beeswax, peppered sausage. Slightly more artificial sweetener with water. F - Tannic, drying, medicinal. Big rum influence.


Springbank society bottling, 9 year old Sauternes casks, 57.1% A+

1128 bottles, the first vatted society bottle I believe.

N - Dry, fruit sweets, cigar tobacco and flapjack. Really classy, wine and barley, deep sweetness. B - Extremely rich but with good balance, Danish pastry and pop tarts. Touch of sulphur with water. F - Medium, very soft, creamy with raspberry jam. Delicious. Great richness, depth and sweetness, and just pulled from the brink in terms of balance.

Springbank 1996, 21 years old (2017 release). 3,800 bottles. 47% A⊕

Properly reviewed at the top of the post.

N - Beautifully balanced fruit, charred wood, really creamy with fruit back notes. B - Really gentle apples, wood, leather and ozone. Very elegant, really beautiful. F - Long and well balanced, gun oil and a little bit of sulphur. Gentle but slightly spicy. A real drinker, absolutely delicious.

Springbank 1996, 21 years old, Port cask for the 2017 open day. A⊕

First fill port HHD, 252 bottles.  Properly reviewed at the top of the post.

IMG_2032N - Coffee and chocolate cake, blood orange juice and pineapples. Even better with water, more fruit and chocolate. B - Clean but fruit driven, with cola bottles and sherbet dibdabs. F - Very long, loads of plum and orchard fruit right to the end with strawberry tart and raspberry sauce.

Very good but not quite enough Springbank character.

Longrow 18 years old, 2017 release A⊕

N - Gunpowder and charcoal, great maturity. B - A little filth, fizzy, lots of fruit. F - Long and balanced. Delicious.

Cadenheads masterclass 25.05.2017 15:30

The first three I’ve reviewed before so I didn’t make notes for them at the festival, but they were:

Glen Elgin 21 years old, 54.7%, Knockdhu 10 years old, 56.5%, Fettercairn 28 years old, 55.4%

Cameronbridge 33 years old, 53.4% A

N - hard, blonde oak, wood glue and leatherette. B - Clean, chocolate chip tracker bars, twix, dried bananas lol. F - Short, varnish, wood tannin at the end. Ordinary grain, a decent drinker.

Littlemill 26 years old, 53.1% A⊕

Another bottle from the great Cadenheads Littlemill lake.  This was bottled and sold at the tasting.

N - Balsa, wood glue and blackcurrants. Dry vanilla sponge and buttercream icing. Really rich and creamy, fruitier with water. B - Lots of cream, wood glue, black pepper. Beautiful wood, wax and vanilla. Cut grass and acrylic paint. F - Blackcurrant sorbet, slightly bourbon-y. Super creamy this, a floral lowlander.

Laphroaig 1991, 25 years old, 49% A+

First fill recharred sherry for the last 3 years. 

N - Holy shit. Marker pens, blackberries, cut hedges, deep and old alien Islay (although less fizzers). B - Wet wood, burnt toast and honey, slightly virgin oak. F - Medium with charred plums. Weirdly virgin oak in the finish. This has a phenomenal nose but a bit intense in the delivery. Mark asked if this should have more time in the cask - I think it needs to go in a different cask for another 5 years or it'll end up black and overcooked like the Springbank dinner bottle. Maybe into that port cask the open day bottling came out of?

Springbank warehouse tasting 25.05.2017 16:30

Everyone loves tasting whisky out of the cask in a dunnage warehouse.


Hazelburn 1998, FF bourbon cask A⊕

N - Beautiful depth, tropical fruit, very balanced for so long in FF bourbon. B - Spiky but lovely fruit. F - Quite a lot of wood, melba toast and honey.

Really delicious. FF bourbon HB is awesome.

Springbank 21 years old, A⊕+

IMG_2034Next year's Springbank 21 year old, bourbon and rum casks this time. This is being vatted in neutral casks at the moment and this is what we tasted.

N - Gunpowder and overripe fruit, intense depth of fruit, sawdust and roasted plums. B - Classy SB 21 with gun oil, marzipan and pastry case. F - Very long with vanilla and tannins.

Kilkerran 2004 port cask, re-racked in 2014. A+

This is the same cask we tried last year, the cask hasn't been moved! I remember being particularly impressed with this one last year.

N - Dark, black fruit. B - Blackcurrant jam and pepper. F - Red wine cask, lots of pepper.

Kilkerran 2004 rum cask A⊕

N - Loads more honey, literally opening a hive. B - Beautifully balanced.

Longrow Red Pinot Noir casks, refilled with Longrow, 11 years old A⊕+

IMG_2043So this is double/refill Longrow red. Racked as 9 years old in 2015. If this is next year's Longrow red I want a case.

N - Super dusty, red berries and bitumen. Strawberry pop tarts, hot malt. B - Beautifully fruity and floral. F - Cigarette tar, aniseed, very, very long.

Springbank 25 years old, next release

N - Deeper, blacker and fruitier. At this point my note taking was cancelled by a nice fellow called Dave who had just discovered we shared a deep history in British metal and both knew all the lyrics for Sabbat's "History of a time to come" (1987)


Cadenhead's Warehouse Tasting, Warehouse #9, 26.05.2017 10:15

As a highlight of last year’s festival, expectations were sky high for this.  Nothing like a big load of drams at 10:15am.


Linkwood, 1987, bourbon cask, 29 years old, 46.5% A⊕

N - Floral, great richness (malt and oak), very balanced. Truffle honey. B- Ripe figs, honey and pastry. F - Long and fizzing, peach fuzz and refreshers. Really delicious but still complex.

Kilkerran 11 years old, full maturation in rum, 57.7%

Proper review at the top of this post.


N- Sweet lemon, citrus cleaner, coastal but very fresh with cigarette tobacco. Young but confident. B - Very punchy, more cleaning products, peppery with new plastic. Richer vanilla with water. F - Long and very spicy.

Glen Scotia 16 years old, full maturation in Oloroso sherry butt, 56.7% A-

N - Dark and fetid, baked apples and prunes. Burnt matches but not overdone, lightly sherried. Beautiful fruit with water. B - Dirty wine cask, fizzers, walnuts. Deep lacquer and sweets. F - Long and very tannic. A flash of cabbage at the end.

Highland Park 29 years old, bourbon cask, 51.5% A⊕

N - Deep, lacquered wood, but fresh with laundry and pears. B - Beautifully honeyed, quite a lot of wood, cigarette tobacco. Apple sweets with water. F - Very long with peach and flapjack, a little cigarette tar.

Springbank 16 years old, NZ cask (bourbon cask, previously from Lammerlaw), 51% A⊕

N - Fresh and coastal, good malt sweetness. B - Very rich and fruit driven, with orange peel but definitely Springbank. F - Very long, creamy. Extraordinarily satisfying. Extremely drinkable, really clean and fruit driven.

Lagavulin 9 years old ("Islay malt"), 59.5% A+

This is a sister cask to the WMCadenhead 9 year old Islay malt.

N - Dirty lemon, wet charred wood, red berries, burning splints on exhale. B - Intense, clean with green apple and joss sticks. Even better with water, more cereal and new make. F - Long and beautifully fruited.

IMG_2167Another great warehouse tasting.  The other timeslot had a slightly different set of casks, including a 24 year old Glen Grant, 27 year old Glentauchers and a 36 year old Blend.  This was an old sherried cask bought pre-blended from Edrington containing Macallan and others, and is the sister cask used for the 36 year old sherried creations (that has some added old Invergordon I believe). I love the creations and this cask isn’t quite as good, but I got one as a curio more than anything, how strange to be buying mature blended casks from Edrington!

Cadenhead's 175th anniversary tasting, 26.05.2017 13:45


1971 Hielanman spirit drink, 45 years old, 38.8% A⊖

Glenfarclas, of course.  A very old cask that had dropped under 40% (surely this would have been better in a 45 year old blend!)

N - Intensely varnished, berried with hot buttered crumpet. B - Spicy pomander, perfume, lots of wood. F - Long but overwooded, fence panels. Fantastic nose, over the hill otherwise.


1991 Littlemill 26 years old, 52.6% A+

This is the littlemill from the small batch 175th anniversary set released globally rather than the one bottled at the festival (see above notes for the Cadenhead’s masterclass).

N - Biscuit and fruit, old cereal, talcum powder and old ladies perfume. A real waxy depth with wood glue. Better woods with water. B - Blackcurrant cordial, custard doughnuts, red chilli with water. F - Creamy with icing sugar and oak at the end.


1991 Rosebank, 26 years old, 50.3% A⊕+

I’ve always quietly thought that Rosebank was a bit overrated but this one is fantastic

N - Gentle, floral, dusty radiator and candle wax. Totally beautiful. B - Really gentle fruit, oils and travel sweets. F - Long, slightly spicy with tons of refreshers. Really compelling. The best Rosebank I've had.

1976 Banff, 40 years old, 51.2% A⊕⊕

IMG_2067N - Incredible depth with well-balanced red fruit, wood and wax. Intense but perfect tropical old Scotch. B - Intense, old dunnage, quite fetid with bong water, melon and grapefruit segments. F- Long with overripe Asian fruits and really quite peppery. A really classy and old school Scotch full of sweetshops and dunnage funk.

IMG_20631977 Convalmore, 40 years old, 56.8% A⊕+

N - Winier, with Mexican hot chocolate and cinnamon swirls. Creamier chocolate with water. B - Beautifully sweet, bright travel sweets and foxes glacier mints. F - Long with cut lemon and lemon sorbet. A perfect drinker. Intense maturity but balanced and with bright citrus freshness.

1977 Caperdonich, 39 years old, sherry butt, 50.4% A⊕+

N - Dark, old sherry cask, ripe and intensely wooded. Reminds me of old Glenfarclas family casks. B - Beautifully balanced sherry bomb, really easy drinking and not overdone. F - Long and fizzing, fabulous. Perfectly judged.

1996 Heaven Hill, 20 years old (in dunnage in Scotland for 17 years after America, shipped in original cask), 50.8% A-

N - Woody, with reclaimed old oak floorboards. Vanilla cream with time. B - Sweet and old and a shitload of wood. F - Virgin oak. This is fine, great for bourbon, not my kind of thing.


1993 Ardbeg, 23 years old, 52.4% A+

This one was valinched out of the cask by a now broken looking Mark Watt and bottled for the crowd.

N - Complete, coastal but with real class. Iron filings, vanilla custard, football stickers. B - Old plasters, crushed granite. F - Long with lots of gunpowder.

A fantastic tasting and a great end to the festival.